At AECT this year I was part of a roundtable (as was my colleagues Kristen Herman and Tugce Aldemir) to discuss the potential of artificial intelligence and how it can shape the field of education and instructional design. During this session an attendee asked us what we thought about students using AI to cheat on their writing assignments. We all sort of laughed at the notion…as that seems to be the question that always comes up. Yes, it is understandable that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as text generators could raise concerns about cheating or academic integrity. However, it is also important to consider the potential benefits of using AI in education, such as improving efficiency, providing personalized learning experiences, and enhancing the learning process. At one point we were all told that we “would not always have a calculator in our hands” and that it was important to memorize complex mathematical formulas. This is of course information that is now readily available at our fingertips through smartphones and other AI-assistance technologies (think Alexa or Siri).
Since the conference’s conclusion this topic has become more important as there have been some great strides and advances in AI-technology. Specifically, OpenAI, has released an artificial intelligence language model that is designed to assist users with generating human-like text. This tool, called ChatGPT, launched in November and has quickly caught the attention of many as it is able to rapidly generate human-like responses to a wide range of prompts (e.g., writing jokes, outlining curricula, defining terms, answering questions, etc). Since its release I have been exploring different ways that I can use ChatGPT to make my job as an academic easier. In the rest of this article I will outline a few potential use cases of this technology that I see as being appropriate for my work. There are of course many ongoing debates around the use and ethics of this kind of technology. I hope that these conversations will continue and perhaps this article can facilitate such discussions.
1. Defining Terms in Academic Papers
For this point I want to provide an example from my work. For many years I have been conducting design research in the development of virtual reality platforms to provide support for autistic learners. This is a topic I have published extensively on…am because of this fact, I am starting to run out of ways to define certain terms. For example, I am always forced to define autism. I am also forced to define virtual reality. I have tried to leave these definitions out of my papers in the past as the terms are rather common in the everyday vernacular. However, there is always a reviewer who insists that these terms need to be defined. Unfortunately, I am running out of ways to say that “autism is a neurodevelopmental condition…” At some point I am just plagiarizing myself. And despite the fact that I have written an introduction with this information a dozen times before, it still ends up taking me an hour to write a paragraph that is basically boiler plate information that I am required to include.
Tasks like this are much easier and faster to complete by using ChatGPT. I can simply login, ask the platform to define autism, provide some clarifying information (i.e., what is a neurodiverse friendly way of defining autism), and be on my way. The technology will generate easy to read and unique text that is ready to be modified and plugged into a proposal or paper. There is some editing that has to be done, but the process is overall a lot faster than writing it from scratch and it frees up my time to focus on the more important parts of the paper.
2. Cleaning up Grammar Issues
As a professor I work with a lot of students and colleagues who have a wide range of writing abilities. Academia is unique as it attracts candidates from different fields – many of which don’t emphasize writing as much. Therefore I spend a lot of my time editing proposals, manuscript drafts, cover letters, etc.. I also have a lot of international students who are not native english speakers which in some cases have led to many rounds of editing. In a recent example, I was sent a manuscript draft to review. There was one paragraph in particular that was really hard to read and had been revised half a dozen times. There was just something about the text that was not coming through.
I decided to try out ChatGPT and see if it could fix this paragraph. I simply pasted the entirety of the paragraph into the system and hit enter. Within seconds I had a rewritten paragraph that said the exact same thing, but was free of grammatical errors and confusion. In fact, it was written better than I could have done it. Again, the text would require some minor editing (such as adding citations and transitions), but the overall structure and point was provided.
3. Summarizing Findings & Discussion
If you are like me then you also lose all interest in the paper you are writing by the time you reach the discussion. For me, I have expended so much energy on the rest of the project that I am just burnt out and never want to look at my paper ever again. Thankfully, this is another area where I see a lot of potential of using ChatGPT.
In a recent project I decided to test this idea out. I had the results section of a paper fully written and all that was left was the discussion and conclusion. I tend to organize my discussion around my research questions and therefore typically start with a brief and rather informal summary of my findings. So in this case, I copied and pasted my results (quantitative and qualitative) into ChatGPT. I honestly had no idea what might even come out. To my surprise, the system created a summary paragraph that outlined the methods and major findings in an easy to understand format. I could use this text to begin my discussion and could then interweave points from the literature to finish the paper.
Bonus Idea: Writing an Abstract
I hate writing research abstracts. I have not tried it yet, but I fully expect that I could use the same approach as #3 to generate an abstract for a paper.
As with any technology, it is important to establish clear guidelines and expectations for the appropriate use of AI tools in educational settings. This could include training students on how to use these tools responsibly and ethically, and setting expectations for proper citation and attribution when using AI-generated content. It may also be necessary to develop strategies for detecting and addressing instances of inappropriate use of AI tools. With this article I make no claim to the ethics involved in any of these ideas. Quite simply, I believe that it is important that we as a field approach the use of AI in education with balance and perspective, recognizing both the potential benefits and potential risks, and taking steps to ensure that these tools are used in a way that supports the goals of education. This last paragraph was written by ChatGPT.